Scott MacLeod is a man used to breaking the mould and, as Mark Smith finds out, Newcastle Falcons' Scottish lock-forward continues to plough his own furrow
IN a media world where sportsmen have the character and charisma beaten out of them upon entry, a trip to Newcastle Falcons is a welcome relief.
Kingston Park this week was a case in point – director of rugby Dean Richards getting the coffees in for the press pack, chatting away with tape recorders rolling and not an anodyne platitude in sight.
Ask a stupid question and the former policeman’s thousand-yard stare will rightly cut you in half like a band saw.
Yet, in an era where Michael Owen is deemed a shrewd appointment as a pundit on the nation’s flagship football show, the fact rugby can rise above such tedium remains a large part of the allure.
Deano done and dusted, in pops Scott MacLeod, apologising for “being a wee bit smelly” having come straight from the training field rather than keeping the hacks waiting by showering and changing.
He doesn’t look like your pre-packed, clean-cut sportsman, and he doesn’t talk like one.
In some respects his unbridled brand of honesty could make him a press officer’s nightmare, but that is never a bad thing.
So, to kick off, you’re playing Connacht Eagles in the British and Irish Cup, what was it like when you went to Ireland in October and beat them 34-3?
“It was pretty grim, to be fair,” says the 33-year-old Scot in his Borders drawl, long blond hair, arms covered in tattoos and sporting a skinny black T-shirt – more rock star than ruck star. He has a point, given the alarmingly sparse crowd which watched the Falcons labour away against a committed but under-powered second-string outfit in the Irish rugby ghost town of Athlone.
“It was basically a field in the middle of nowhere, and the crowd was about 72 people.
“Forty-four of those were players, so I would think Connacht would be up for coming here and they have nothing to lose.”
It is the sort of comment normally pinned on the dressing room door by over-sensitive opportunists.
However, with a seven-year international career now behind him and supreme confidence in his team’s ability, one suspects MacLeod just isn’t that bothered by such amateur psychology.
It is not borne out of disrespect for this afternoon’s opponents,MacLeod adding: “Connacht are a useful team and will be very energetic, wanting to express themselves from the start.
“Playing at Kingston Park should be great for them on that kind of pitch and with a decent crowd in, because when we went over to Ireland there was basically nobody there.
“Connacht are always a tough side to play against, as I have done many times in the Magners League.
“These boys will want to prove a point in terms of selection for their senior side, and they are normally a hard team to put away.
“However, as we have spoken about during our meetings this week, it is all about ourselves.”
MacLeod is not your typical sportsman on many fronts, first taking up the game in his 20s purely for fitness and because his mate was a member of the local club in his native Hawick.
He still lives in the border town, commuting for training and games in the reverse of a journey famously taken by Scotland and Lions great Alan Tomes, whose son Sean is a fellow Newcastle lock.
Having been handed seven days’ rest after their last game at Doncaster, MacLeod added: “It was good to get the week off, not just from training but from driving down every day.
“You do get used to it and it is just a case of getting yourself mentally ready with your cup of coffee when that alarm clock goes off.
“We are usually in for training at 8.30am, so I am leaving home when it is pitch black and driving back when it is pitch black at the end of the day.
“It can be a bit of a nightmare, but it is all about getting my kids settled so you just have to get on with it.
“It is such a boring road. There are no lights on it, hardly any villages and nothing to look at. “
As he sits at Kingston Park speaking in typically open fashion, a leaflet on the next table advertises the England Saxons v Scotland A game being held at the venue in three weeks’ time. Almost two years since his last international involvement, will he be waiting by the phone for a call-up?
He admits: “No, I wouldn’t expect to be in the frame for that. When I left to move to Japan two years ago that was probably me done with that, but I suppose you never say never.
“If they wanted me to play again I would love to.”
With Burns’ Night less than a fortnight away it seems a waste not to drop in one final question.
“Funny you should mention that, because the missus made haggis, neeps and tatties for my tea last night,” he says, a smile and a fist-pump signalling his delight at the timing.
“I’m probably just living up to the stereotype of being Scottish. However, it tasted good and I have it all year round so who cares?”